Why You Need an Outside Coach

As a coach called into an organization to do something very specific, say, help get teams over the hump on continuous deployment or TDD or ATDD or something like that, a conversation with the sponsor frequently goes something like this:

Sponsor: “We’ve been doing agile for (some number of) years now and we’re extremely proud of how well we’re doing.”

Coach: “That’s great! I’d love to learn from your experience while I’m here.”

Sponsor: “Absolutely!”

A few days later, after working with the teams on that specific technical practice, it becomes painfully apparent that things are not as advertised:

  • Teams have abandoned the Sprint Retrospective
  • Teams consistently fail to deliver stories during the Sprint, comfortably allowing them to slide into the next Sprint
  • Sprint Reviews have become stale and self-congratulatory because they are conducted inside the team fishbowl, without stakeholders or customers present
  • Sprint planning meetings are chaotic and painful because teams are not engaging in backlog grooming or “Story Time” meetings to get ready for the next Sprint
  • Sprint planning meetings are artificially abbreviated so as not to “waste” time, leading to failure to understand stories adequately and failure to deliver those stories during the Sprint
  • Teams work in personal silos, with hand-offs and queuing delays holding up story completion
  • Teams prefer information refrigerators to information radiators because transparency is too hard/scary/threatening

These and a myriad of other problems and dysfunctions are the all-too-common result of an insular corporate culture that lacks the spark of cross-pollination. Agile can quickly become stale, stagnant, or just plain smelly when organizations look exclusively inward. Allowing team members and other agile practitioners to attend conferences is a solid strategy to keep the flow of ideas from drying up. But at some point, you need to bring in an outside coach to freshen up the organization’s perspective.

Okay, I can already hear the objections. Yes, I make my living providing agile coaching services. However, I wouldn’t be in this line of work if I didn’t believe fervently in both agile values and principles and the benefits of coaching.

An outside coach has some advantages that are very difficult to obtain internally. First off, an outside coach is a disinterested observer (disinterested does not mean “uninterested” – it means having no vested interest in any particular outcome, an honest broker) and can therefore recommend things that people tied into the organization would be unwilling or unable to broach. An accomplished outside coach also brings wide-ranging experience to the table. After a few years of active coaching, most of us have seen the gamut of issues and can leverage that experience to help organizations overcome most any impediment, even ones we’ve never seen before.

Finally, an outside coach can offer that breath of clear air, the source of vital cross-pollination that helps freshen up your agile practice, providing the boost your company needs to overcome organizational gravity or get off the current plateau and move forward.

So freshen up your approach – call a coach!

All for now….